05 March 2022

Ukrainians at London protest tell of fears for their families

05 March 2022

Hundreds have gathered in central London to protest against Russia’s assault on Ukraine, with some recounting their fears for their families living through the war at home.

Some demonstrators in Trafalgar Square were visibly emotional as they sang the Ukrainian national anthem and chanted: “Stop Putin, stop the war.”

They carried placards saying “Putin terrorist” and “Protect Ukraine, save Europe”, and many were draped in the blue and yellow national flag of Ukraine.

The rally began with a prayer led by Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the papal nuncio to Great Britain, who said: “Today we are all Ukrainians.”

Nadiia Soshenko and Volodymyr Shevetovskyy, from Kyiv (Sophie Wingate/PA) (PA Wire)

It came on the 10th day of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as the heavy bombardment of many cities by Russian forces continues and refugees stream out of the country to join the more than a million who have already fled.

Protesters Volodymyr Shevetovskyy, 31, and his girlfriend Nadiia Soshenko, 27, from Kyiv, said they were grateful for support from western countries but called for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Ukraine.

Ms Soshenko told the PA news agency: “There are already a lot of deaths in our country.

“Nato is afraid to close the skies saying that they’re afraid to start the third world war.

“Excuse me, what’s happening right now? Why the whole world can’t stop one insane, mad person? I just honestly do not understand why our people are dying, are dying for what?”

Protesters denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Shevetovskyy said: “What Russians are doing is they’re bombing people from the sky and we are quite weak in that department, Russia’s military is much stronger there and we need the United States, Nato and the UK, the developed world, to step up and to close our skies.”

Mr Shevetovskyy, who has lived in the UK for 13 years but whose family were based in Kyiv and Kharkiv, said their lives had “turned 180 degrees” since the invasion began.

The couple said they felt “guilty and ashamed” of being safe in London while their family and friends “are there being attacked, under shellings”.

They wake up twice at night to check whether their relatives are safe and whether Kyiv is still under Ukraine’s control.

Mr Shevetovskyy, who sells tiles in the UK from his father’s Ukraine-based business, said: “The communication goes: ‘Is it quiet?’ and they say ‘yes’ and you say ‘thank God, I love you’, because you don’t care about business, you just care for people to actually survive.”

The protest came on the 10th day of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

Although the couple’s families have moved to western Ukraine in recent days, their concern for them has not diminished as “there’s no safe place in Ukraine, unfortunately right now at all”.

Ms Soshenko is worried that her 20-year-old student brother will be forced to fight although he “doesn’t even know what a gun looks like”.

“I’m so scared to death that something is going to happen to him,” she said.

She has a friend who is in a Kyiv shelter and is due to give birth, and she can hear bombs when she speaks to her grandparents in hard-hit Kharkiv, on the phone.

Michael Green, 53, from London, said he was at the protest to stand up against Russia’s “totally egregious breach of international law”.

The economist said his Ukrainian wife’s family were fleeing the country, “but sadly many friends are left behind”.

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